Field School Revelations!

In a few days, I’m heading to Spike Island, County Cork, Ireland, to spend five weeks living in an abandoned (and reportedly haunted!) island prison complex with a few dozen total strangers. It’s a bioarchaeology field school, meaning we’ll be excavating the prison cemetery in use during the 1840s and 1850s, when the Potato Famine (or Great Hunger) in Ireland caused such massive increases in criminality (with people sentenced to seven to fourteen years hard labor for stealing food to feed their starving families) that Spike Island, a former naval base, was converted into a prison in order to house the huge new waves of “criminals.”

Spike Island sits in center of Cork Harbour, which is now used by the Irish Navy, various cruise ships and lots of industry. In the mid-1800s, all those who emigrated out of Ireland during the Famine, including my Irish ancestors, left the country through Cork Harbour, making it a sort of reverse Ellis Island. Incidentally, this harbor was also the last port of call for the Titanic. (Twelve-year-old me is going to love the large Titanic museum in Cobh.)

I’ve spent the last few weeks reading books about the Famine and the prison and have watched a bunch of videos about the supposed ghosts. Ghost Hunters International did a spot on Spike Island, and as usual, found absolutely nothing. (I’m not hating on the paranormal – I did my fair share of Ouija boarding with my aunt while I was growing up. However, it pleases me that nothing horrifying has been found on the burnt-out, cemeteries-old prison I’m about to live in for the entire month of July.) My favorite of all my prep, however, is this terrifying video I found on YouTube, which proves that a haunting soundtrack really is all you need:

I’m planning on blogging the entire experience, with the help of a pay-as-I-go mobile wireless router. However, I’m assuming my technological prowess, compounded by my being in a foreign country, may result in less-than-daily posts. I’ll probably be better at posting on my Facebook page and/or Twitter feed, so if you’re at all interested, follow me there!


Mystery Science.

By the end of this week, I’ll be in Ireland.  I have just (finally) finished buying all the things I need for the trip and I am planning on organizing, washing, and packing all my new Indiana Jones clothes tomorrow (because I just spent ten hours on travel-related errands and loose-end-tying, and I am spent).  In the spirit of preparation, earlier this morning, I almost published a post about exactly where I’m going and why I’m so excited to go.  However, then my overwhelming paranoia took over and I decided not to give so many details.  I’ve gone back and forth over whether or not to reveal where I’ll be for six weeks and I think I’ve settled on not publicizing the precise location until I get back.  If I was going deep into a remote jungle somewhere, it might be different.  As it stands, though, I’ll be staying in a pretty public place, and I want to stay off the grid.

I feel bad about it, because not discussing the details here implies that at worst, I think you’re all murderers, and at best, I think you care enough about me to randomly show up somewhere you think I’ll be.  And, I don’t think you’re all murderers or fiendish stalkers (for the most part, that is).  I guess I just don’t want to be so accessible.

Therefore, I’m going to start a new, currently private blog on which to record all the minutia of my trip, and here I’ll post close-ups of what’s happening and wide-angle photos of Ireland itself, and just leave out the middle ground (i.e. where I am and what I’m doing) until I get back, when I’ll link to the trip blog and you can get the real deal.

I feel like this entire post reeks of delusions of grandeur.  I’m assuming anyone gives a shit where I’ll be.  I’m also assuming that you’ll be devastated that I’m not live-blogging my entire experience this summer.  However, I felt the need to explain why I’m being such a cryptic ahole, especially to those of you who have been reading since the very beginning, when all I did was grossly overshare.

A silver lining? Travel is always rife with annoyance, so I’m sure I’ll have plenty to discuss, even if when I’m staying is cloaked in mystery.

Thoughtless Thursday: Procrastination Station.

In less than one week, I leave for Ireland. I’ll be gone for six weeks. SIX WEEKS. I’ll be alone in Dublin for the first two days, then living with about thirty other people at an archaeological site for the entire month of July. (I will eventually write about where I’m going. I think I may schedule a post to publish when I’m on the plane. I just like the suspense.)

My husband, my parents, and my brother The Middle Child are flying over when my field school ends and we’re spending the sixth week all together, traveling around the perimeter of the country. I can’t wait. My husband and I have gone on exactly one other major vacation together – our honeymoon to Scotland to meet all his family – and it was, for all intents and purposes, a bit of a total disaster. So, I’m hoping this trip goes well and inspires my husband to love traveling (at least enough that he’ll come with me to Pompeii – in about ten years, when we’ve saved up enough money to go on another European vacation.)

Before I leave, I have to go buy everything I’ll need to wear to excavate/live out of the country for a month, finish my thesis research (Monday’s the last day!) and take care of a seemingly endless list of small things one has to handle before jetting off to a foreign land (alerting my banks, buying train tickets in advance, getting new contacts [for my eyes], figuring out if taking my phone is worth it, studying maps, etc). I’ve been crazy with the end of school/graduations and also a little bit in denial that this trip is actually happening, so this weekend is going to be whirlwind of prep.

Here’s what I’ve been up to while refusing to believe I’m leaving in just a few days…

Taking a child to the La Brea Tar Pits:

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We let her wander around by herself all morning. Obviously.

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I have an amazing friend who works as an excavator there, so we got to check out one of the deposits up close and personal. I got to exercise my wealth of useless knowledge by pointing out all the different bones.

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I found a new diamond solitaire in the gift shop. You think this is a joke, but I’ve seen some engagement rings here that could totally rival this.

Finding out, on social media of course, that The Middle Child got hit by a car while riding his bike:

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His face! His poor beautiful face! (He’s totally fine. Except for the face thing.)

Reading a bunch of weird crazy-person books stress-purchased from Amazon:

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Scientology, Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints, space travel, the Potato Famine, and Amanda Knox’s memoir. I threw in an Ireland guidebook and some Cheryl Strayed to prove that my brain isn’t all nuts. Just like 70%.

And, of course, taking care of Baby Bird, who we’re now calling Jack – as in Jack Sparrow. I voted for Tweets, but my husband isn’t cool enough to appreciate the social commentary:

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Still just as creepy as yesterday.


My Very Own Creationist.

When my husband and I had been engaged for about a year (and living together for about two years), he told me, in absolute sincerity as I was driving us through Santa Monica, that when we had children, he wanted to raise them as Creationists. He explained that he’d gone to a very Christian private school as a young child and been hugely influenced by his favorite teacher, Mrs M., who taught him all about how the dinosaurs had lived at the same time as humans, who eventually hunted off the gigantic reptiles for food.

Because he is totally horrible, my husband held tightly to this gag for about twenty minutes, despite the fact that I almost killed us by veering off the road in panic and then threatened to break off our engagement. I was horrified that I had somehow missed this enormous theological difference between us. How could I, the anthropologist, be engaged to a creationist?!?

He let me freak out for our entire drive, occasionally saying something obnoxious like, “You can’t seriously believe the world is more than 6,000 years old!” while looking at me grimly, until he eventually broke into hysterical laughter.

I was livid. It remains the first and only time I’ve wanted to end our relationship. (I wanted out when I thought he was a creationist and also later, after I discovered he got so much satisfaction from making me enraged, when I knew he would make me insane for the rest of our lives.)

Today, while sorting through old pictures and scrapbooks at his mom’s house, we came across proof that he really was taught, as a five-year-old kindergartner, that dinosaurs were exterminated by mankind.

It is both amazing and terrifying:

Men eat meat too. That’s why they killed the dinosaurs.

Did you know that humans in loincloths took out the whole of the stegosaurus population with bows and arrows?

Now you do.

Total Zoo.

Today, my husband and I decided to make good on our recent promise to have Cultural Sundays and finally cashed in the San Diego Zoo day passes we’ve had for months.  We left LA super early and made the two-hour drive to the zoo with no traffic (miracle of miracles!) – only to then spent the next four hours battling throngs of people in attempts to see the giant pandas and new, massive “elephant odyssey.”  Despite the fact that it was packed (and I tend to get a little anxious in crowds), I had a fabulous time walking around adoring The Husband, eating a churro and drinking an ICEE.

The animals were pretty cool too.  (Notice the order of importance: Husband, Churro, ICEE, and THEN zoo animals.)

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In addition, I felt like a rock star (by proxy, of course), because the new elephant exhibit drew lots of parallels between current Southern California animals and the (now extinct) animals alive in Southern California 12,000 years ago.  This led to much exhibit-wall discussion of the La Brea Tar Pits, a museum built around asphalt seeps in mid-city LA, which have yielded, and continue to yield, thousands of incredible Ice Age mammal fossils for nearly one hundred years.  In my past life, I spent two years as a Sunday volunteer in the lab there, excavating, cleaning, sorting, and reconstructing the bones of mammoths and dire wolves, and I am lucky to know several people who still work there as excavators.  Some of whom, I discovered today, have been immortalized in photo collages at the San Diego Zoo:

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That woman with the notebook in the middle photo?  She wrote on the comedy paper with my husband and me, and was the person who encouraged my love of anthropology and got me a volunteer position.  Man, I used to be so cool, guys.

My Diamond Shoes Are Too Tight.

Over the summer, this blog, that was conceived (pun intended!) as a way to track our progress toward procreation and which has in recent months morphed into a daily idiocy parade, will change yet again – this time into a travelogue/field school journal, because in about one month, I’m going to be flying to Ireland by myself to spend five weeks digging up a cemetery.  

For years, I have been desperate to go and do.  There is so much in the world that I am fascinated by and interested in and passionate about, and I want to see and experience all of it.  I’ve got a friend, who I am trying to strong-arm into guest posting here, who has, in the nine years since high school, lived in several different countries by herself.  I am in awe of her.  When I discovered that participation in a field school was a requirement for graduation from my Masters program, I started saving up money to escape having to take the campus-run 10-weekend program based in the California desert.  I wanted to go somewhere far away and have an experience, because I like to think I’m open-minded and adventurous and totally game.

However, I am also the kind of person who read Cheryl Strayed’s incredible memoir Wild, in which she gets her ass kicked by the Pacific Crest Trail (and her own perceived failings) for months, and was most upset by the scene in which she takes a shower in a camp bathroom and uses a bar of communal soap she finds sitting leftover in the stall.  My hypochondria runs pretty deep.

I am clearly not that adventurous.

Which brings us to:

When I booked my flight recently, I scheduled my arrival early intentionally, so that I’ll land in Ireland two days ahead of the first meeting of the field school participants.  I did this because I didn’t want to worry about missing the boat (literally) over to the site, and because I thought it might be cool to have some travel time alone before launching into an entire month of archaeological work.  Now, as I’m watching the days between now and then fly off the calendar, I can’t believe I thought that flying in early would be fun.  I am in full panic mode about being in a foreign country by myself.  For two whole days and two whole nights.  I can barely sleep at home in my own bed when my husband is away.  I don’t like walking down my own street at dusk because my father, the prosecutor, has instilled in me a pretty intense distrust of everyone.  (Actually.  His most repeated advice to me: “Trust no one.”)

It doesn’t help that I’m a woman.  Feminism be damned, we are just, very simply (and statistically), easier targets.  (Please don’t crucify me over that.  Maybe you are a female martial arts master who fears no one.  However, I believe that even though I am as capable intellectually and professionally as any man, when it comes to sheer violence and malice, I am no match for a male lunatic.  And I am 100% convinced that my lifelong awareness of that has kept me out of a lot of really terrible situations.)

WHAT AM I GOING TO DO ALONE IN IRELAND FOR TWO DAYS?  (Cue world’s smallest violin.  Perhaps being played by a leprechaun?)

Tickets are confirmed, hotel reservations have been made, The Husband has been convinced to come visit me at the end of July.  I will get my adventure – and I will be scared shitless the entire time.


In related news, in order to function like a member of this century at field school and at work and while writing my thesis, I need a new laptop.  My ancient, seven-year-old MacBook exploded into small pieces of silicone dust and I need to replace it before I leave to have anxiety attacks in another country.  Does anyone know anything about the MacBook Air?  (Lest this inspire a turf war over Macs versus PCs, let me state for the record that I cannot be swayed.  I am a hopeless Apple-loving hipster.  I blame it on the fact that my earliest computer memories involve playing “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?” on my grandfather’s gigantic Mac desktop in the early 90s.  Never underestimate the power of early branding.)  I am a fan of the Air almost entirely because it is the cheaper option.  I am scared of the Air because it has the density of two sheets of printer paper and doesn’t have a CD port.  (Is that shit even called a CD port?  Answer: definitely not.)

Any thoughts?

Teen Mom Ethnography

During my career as an anthropology undergraduate, I was tasked with doing several ethnographies. I used dictaphones (ha!) to record barista/customer interactions at campus coffee shops and did research on gender roles at local elementary schools. I studied the differences in engagement ring advertisements in predominantly straight versus those in predominantly gay magazine publications (spoiler: predominantly gay magazine adverts were more explicitly sexual). I read all about social divisions at British nightclubs. I have so much ethnographic experience. And tonight, without further ado, I present Teen Mom 2: The Ethnography (in which I pass judgment, employ ethnocentrism and paraphrase interactions, thus breaking every fundamental rule of ethnography).

I have chosen to focus my study on the following conversation between Teen Mom (and noted disaster) Jenelle and her long-suffering, hugely ineffectual mother Barbara, who are both so beaten down either by life or the several takes it took to get this filmed that they are able to discuss almost every major traumatic issue in Jenelle’s life with the urgency of a person on horse tranquilizers:

Jenelle: I’m off probation on Tuesday.

Jenelle’s Mom (asking a question to which she already knows the answer): Does that mean you’re gonna start smoking weed again?

J: Yeah, probably.

JM: Jenelle, really?

J: It’s not like I’m gonna smoke meth or heroin. Calm down. [Note: JM is already remarkably calm.]

JM (monotone): What about Kieffer? What’s up with that? [Note: Kieffer is Jenelle’s ex-boyfriend who has been in prison for the better part of a year and who is universally known for being insufferable douche and a terrible influence.]

J: I’ll probably see him. It’s not like I’m gonna move in with him or something. It seems like he’s matured. [Editor’s note: It’s not like she’s gonna move in with him, okay? Jesus, Barbara, CALM DOWN. Just stop with the…breathing and blinking. You’re embarrassing yourself. Also, when I told my mom that a guy I was dating in college was “mature,” I meant that he owned a house in the Hollywood hills and worked in finance. (It didn’t work out, because I will never be that mature.) However, for Jenelle, “It seems like he’s matured” = “He’s just been released from prison and I’m off probation and can finally see him in person again.” This is not good.]

After witnessing that exchange last night as I finally caught up with my beloved TV shows, I turned off the episode. Sometimes, I just can’t.

I love being a snarky jerk as much as the next twelve-year-old boy, but I am legitimately upset by these girls and their lives. They have zero agency. With the exception of moving apartments and filing court papers, they don’t actively make choices in their own lives. There’s been lots of hand wringing about the show promoting and glorifying teen pregnancy. I say that if that’s your concern, you’ve obviously never seen an episode. What we all should be worried about is that we’ve got a major television franchise on a huge network that stars teenage girls who are so apathetic about what happens to them that they coast through even the most horrible situations with zero conscious thought.

This is how the decision-making goes, for all the girls: Maybe I’ll be with him. Maybe I’ll finish my GED. Maybe I’ll get a job. Maybe I’ll break up with him. Maybe I’ll meet my lawyer in a burger joint and try to persuade him that blowing my inexplicable last chance at avoiding jail in order to go to a Ke$ha concert is sound logic. My dog just got eaten by another dog! Maybe I’ll get another dog in that exact same color. I’m still in love with the father of my twins, but maybe I’ll divorce him and get engaged and get off my birth control and get pregnant again. Maybe I’ll have unprotected sex with my horrible ex-boyfriend who has been nothing but an absent ass for two years. Maybe I’ll get pregnant!

Jeezy chreezy lemon squeezy.

The last thing teenage girls need is more public modeling of women without agency. The message this show sends is that young adult women are so helpless and useless that they are better off waiting for their abusive exes to sweep them off their feet than they are taking steps to actively improve their own quality of life.

If I had an impressionable teenage daughter who was not a ninety-year-old woman trapped in a child’s body (like I was as a teen) and she watched Teen Mom as often as I currently do, I would be more concerned about her assuming that that cycle of abuse is normal than that she’d want to get pregnant at 16. However, if I have anything to do with it (and as her mother, hopefully I will), she will be as crippled with hypochondria and anxiety as I was and will not have sex for the first time until she is 25.


Old News.

This just in: Germany is looking for an adventurous female human surrogate for some 30,000 year old Neanderthal DNA.  I hate to disappoint all of you fertile human women who were interested, but I’ve already applied for the position.  I have been dreaming of this moment for years – the time when my intellectual fascination with anthropology would meet my obsession with babies at a perfect crossroads.  A time when I could yell at everyone who balked at my earning both Anthropology Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees while dreaming of eventually having the money and time to have a child, “Guess what, guys?  I am pregnant.  And not just with any stupid human baby.  It’s a (50% human) girl (cooked up in a lab with the help of some DNA from a Homo sapiens sub species from the Ice Age)!”  I might have to work on the wording of that for the announcement.


Baby Thaly, generated with the help of Internet goldmine from the photo of me below and a photo of a Neanderthal facial reconstruction. Isn’t she…something?

Speaking of old things and babies with crows feet, until this past week, I had really only considered my newest self-centered concern in the fleeting moments I’d read about it in Glamour magazine, on the page nestled right between the anti-wrinkle advertisements and the airbrushed photos of the latest celebrity cover girl.  However, I can now safely say that I am a woman with both acne and wrinkles.  There was a glorious time in my early 20s when, with the help of Accutane and hormonal birth control, I managed to have good, healthy-looking skin for about four years and now it is all downhill from here.  Wonderful.  In addition, a friend at work pointed out (and then forcibly removed from my head) my very first gray hair this week.  Oh, youth – it was fun while it lasted.

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Me, face makeup-free, and so very pimply and shiny. Thanks, Universe!